Zimbabwe: Progress, Power and Violent Accumulation – by David Moore

The following is an excerpt from the Introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies on Zimbabwe edited by David Moore. The complete version of Moore’s introduction is available for free download at Taylor & Francis Online’s Journal of Contemporary African Studies — Volume 30, Issue 1, 2012


As Roger Southall raised the idea for this special edition of the Journal of Contemporary African Studies many years ago, the popular political theorist John Gray’s gloomy reflections on the idea of “progress” seemed to be very relevant to Zimbabwe. Gray’s Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007) spoke of theories of “development” and “modernisation” – surely “scientific” syntheses of liberal philosophies of “progress” in “lesser developed” places such as Africa – as dreams. For Gray they are “not scientific hypothesis but theodicies – narratives of providence and redemption – presented in the jargon of social science”. As such they are part of the economistic (sometimes “˜neo-liberal’) “beliefs that dominated the last two decades … residues of the faith in providence that supported classical political economy” (2007, 75). Perhaps the political, economic and social collapse of Zimbabwe amidst the ability of its rulers to maintain – and perhaps even to gain – power, buttresses Gray’s pessimism. Closer than Gray to Zimbabwe, Peter Godwin wrote that events in his homeland moved him to wonder if “the whole idea of progress is a paradox, a rocking horse that goes forward and back, forward and back, but stays in the same place, giving only the comforting illusion of motion” (2006, 51-2).

It was in such a context that this journal’s theme – and that of the approximately 150 person November 2010 Bulawayo conference that was its prelude[i] – came to be. A society in which the economy had plummeted to such an extent that the state no longer had a currency in its name, and even the thinnest form of democracy (elections) seemed still-born in the form of a “transitional inclusive government”, might have been a good place to test the optimism of believers in progress.

Aside from those who received middling or large plots of land in the “fast-track” reform process,[ii] a small elite within the accumulation networks within and beyond the ZANU-PF party, state and society complex (Mawowa and Matongo 2010), and perhaps a few in the top echelons of the diaspora, by late 2011 for whom in Zimbabwe had “progress” unfolded? Very few indeed, it would seem. The vast majority had lost their jobs to “work” in the informal sector if they were lucky, had migrated to South Africa and further abroad to work – often informally too – if they were somewhat luckier (although leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa put migrants at risk of xenophobia), while a significant minority who kept up their political opposition in Zimbabwe (or were even suspected of voting against the ruling party) and its counterpart in civil society (see Helliker in this edition for important theoretical considerations) suffered violent abuse or death (Sachikonye 2011; Staunton 2009; Orner and Holmes 2011). Many died from easily avoidable illnesses, such as those in the cholera epidemic of 2008-9, or ones that can be kept at bay in “normal” circumstances. To be sure, the secular celebrants of the “land to the poor” litany maintain their beliefs (Scoones 2010; cf Rutherford in this edition[iii]) but the statistical rebuffs to what appears to be their positivist rectitude are incubating. In general, even the most sanguine of those following the varied dicta of the “national democratic revolution” – such as South Africa’s former president Thabo Mbeki (2001; Moore in this issue) – could not apply the laws of deferred socialism to Zimbabwe easily, while John Hoffman in these pages (perhaps with post-NDR as well as post-liberal lines) can only offer us the hope that the momentum of progress, albeit stalled, has taken root in Zimbabwe and will appear more obviously again: but even in a post-Mugabe era there will be “tremendous problems to overcome”, needing a “hard headed notion of progress, rooted in painful and complex realities”.

“Accumulation” is a “hard-headed notion” indeed, as are those of power and the violence that accompanies it when widespread consent and legitimacy disappear, to emerge again only with a combination of coercion and patronage (see Kriger in this edition). Thus this journal – veering somewhat from the more varied topics at the Bulawayo conference – has moved towards bringing together the ideas of accumulation and power. As the time of publication approached, so too did the mirage of elections to take Zimbabwe out of its inclusive government impasse, and thus the reality of ZANU PF’s increased intimidation: this time, the new twist seemed to be that marauding urban youth gangs headed by ZANU PF affiliates sought to control the once laisser-faire informal marketers captured so well in Chagonda’s contribution to this journal (Moyo 2011), as well as deterring activists and electors from their preferred party choices.

As the transitional inclusive government (IG) or the “˜government of national unity’ (GNU) mired deeper into its deadlock while a parallel form of governance emerged (Kriger, this journal), the links between violence and accumulation – and lack of the latter for some: those without access to alternative accumulation possibilities are easily recruited to brutal enterprises such as the Chipangano, as are they to the National Youth Service (Shumba 2006; 2010) and the long-standing Green Bomber militias – were tightening as never before. Yet even this connection – a “˜rational’ and “˜logical’ association between the meting out of cruelty and the gathering of often excessive wealth amidst extreme scarcity – may still lock us into the development theodicy of which Gray speaks. We can attempt to explain Zimbabwe’s violence in terms of the original sin of primary or primitive accumulation if we are Marxists, or the painful transition to modernity if we are liberals: as Ahluwalia, Bethlehem and Ginio (2007, 2) take it from Mamdani, the “notion of historical progress … ensures that our modern sensibility is not repulsed by the endemic violence that has marked the modern condition”, but when that violence seems senseless – if it “cannot be justified by progress” – it is much more disturbing; it becomes explained away as “˜evil’ a category too often applied to the Third World “˜other’ by denizens of wealthy capitalist countries whose historical memories have disappeared. Perhaps explaining is a lesser evil – or a better religion – than explaining away, so social scientists continue in that attempt. In any case, explaining means teasing out particularities rather than resting on general platitudes such as “˜primitive accumulation is always violent’ (the “˜materialist’ social scientists), “˜Africans are always violent’ (the racists), and “˜liberation wars always lead to violent and predatory ruling parties and/or classes’ (a version of the liberal view). Perhaps too, the movement of “˜progress’ can only be measured by examining standards of life rather than whether or not humanity’s spiritual essence has improved: saints are quite often poor.

Those who live in Zimbabwe and who study it once invested much “˜hope’ for its progress on the possibility of its settler-colonial heritage of relatively advanced forces and relations of production negating the need for more violence than that expended in the first phase of primitive accumulation (the settler conquest) and the struggle to spread its gains to a new generation of differently coloured politicians and citizens (the “˜liberation’ war). In 1980, many feared the supposedly “˜Marxist-Leninist Terrorist’ Robert Mugabe (although not a few “˜Marxist-Leninists’ were fooled too). Yet his kind, if stilted (and, in retrospect, not so soothing), words on the dawn of independence – “if yesterday you hated me, today you cannot avoid the love that binds you to me and me to you … the wrongs of the past must now stand forgiven and forgotten … we are all Zimbabweans now” seemed to dissipate those qualms as Mugabe was compared favourably with figures of Mother Theresa’s stature (De Waal 1990; Kilgore 2009). When those dreams were dissipated during ZANU PF’s “˜third chimurenga‘, many were surprised. Robert Mugabe’s bromides were remembered with a bitter nostalgia and he was turned quickly into a mendacious, if not mad, dictator. Some mourned the metamorphosis of “˜nationalist’ to “˜patriotic’ history,[iv] (see Ian Phimister’s account in these pages: for him there was no metamorphosis, but a nearly natural evolution in nationalist history – and histories of nationalism as some define them – far too silent on class and contradictions that we all should have seen coming) while others with some sense of that discipline saw the roots of all the current problems in the violence of the national/patriotic war. Yet many of those who wrote against the celebratory nationalist current were prone to seeing a mirror image….

To continue reading and for the complete version of David Moore’s introduction, download it at:

Journal of Contemporary African Studies — Volume 30, Issue 1


David Moore is a Professor of Development Studies and head of the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

[i] The conference – of which this journal edition is a “product” – was sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation, the Norwegian People’s Aid and the Civil Society Monitoring Mechanism. Itai Zimunya must be thanked profusely for his long-term work as the OSISA “point-man” in Zimbabwe, as must Eldred Masunungure’s Mass Public Opinion Institute and especially Monica Munzwandi and her team for fine organisation and logistics. Showers Mawowa and Judith Todd deserve special appreciation too. Bulawayo Agenda assisted in its fair city. Patrick Bond emailed the proceedings to all and sundry, all over, every day. Kubatana’s Amanda Atwood set up an audio and text archive, http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/demgg/101108kub.asp?sector=DEMGG&year=0&range_start=1, and Edwina Spicer Productions filmed the event. Apparently about six scribes from Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation were also taking notes and discussing matters with the delegates. Finally but most gratefully, thanks to Norma Kriger and Brian Raftopoulos, who kept this boat afloat.

[ii] Not all of the larger plots of land went to ostensibly ZANU PF supporters; or not all recipients stayed ZANU PF supporters. Between February and June 2002 the state-run Sunday Mail published a list from the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture of those who received Model A-2 (Commercial Scheme) farms (Justice for Agriculture, 2002). A Dr. Mtuli Ncube, then a lecturer at the London School of Economics, is listed as having received Sikumi Estate, nearly 8,400 hectares in size, near Hwange, Matabeleland North. As of late 2011 Ncube was Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank, after holding posts as Head of the Business School at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and for a few months thereafter Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management at Wits. Before that, however, he was chair of Barbican Bank, which lost its licence in the early 2000s, but by 2010 was apparently opening once again (Mpofu, 2011). While in Johannesburg Professor Ncube was involved in the organisation of at least two well-advertised public appearances by the president of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, and at a Wits University public seminar on the Zimbabwean situation advocated the establishment of private property rights as the sine qua non of Zimbabwean progress.

[iii] Rutherford’s review essay in the form of a conference paper came to the editors as they were starting work on this edition. In spite and because of Kirk Helliker’s previous review in these pages, we felt the debate deserved even more comprehensive treatment; thus we asked its author to elaborate some more.

[iv] Another problem with the idea of “patriotic history” is that it can be made much too powerful, approaching the status of a driver of Zimbabwe’s modern history and political economy, accelerated and steered by a small coterie of “public intellectuals” (Tendi 2010).


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